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Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

9:16 pm ia_blog

Working to Stop Rewriting Copyright Laws via TPP Treaty

The Internet Archive joined Our Fair Deal along with EFF and Public Knowledge to stop the US from using the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty from changing our copyright laws.   The coalition sent two open letters to TPP negotiators today on critical issues that you can learn about here. Let’s foster open debate and proper process before further changes to copyright laws restrict public access even more.

Please consider joining this coalition.

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12:00 pm timb_ongoing

Blow up the Cert Business

Check out Maintaining digital certificate security by Adam Langley over on the Google Online Security blog. Bad certs in the wild, many Windows users (but not on Firefox) vulnerable. This is very, very bad. Let me elaborate a bit and explain how Google could solve this problem.

Digital certificates (everyone says “certs”) are a key ingredient in making the Web secure enough that you can use it for banking and buying things. You need one if you want to operate a web address starting with “https:”. You buy them from a “certificate authority” (everyone says “CA”).

Fortunately, they’re cheap and reliable and pretty easy to use. These days, you can get them for free for some applications. Plug: I got mine for from; it was easy, straightforward and cheap.

Unfortunately, the CA business is poorly regulated, there are too many of them, and some have questionable competence and/or ethics, this most recent story being an example. If your security gets compromised, do you care whether it’s because the cert provider screwed up, got bribed by a crook, or was “persuaded” by an intelligence agency? I don’t. But these things happen.

Specifically: When a screw-up like that one in India happens, it means that if bad guys got their hands on those fake Google certs (and maybe some did) they could pretend to be and steal your Google account (and maybe some did).

Since the cert infrastructure is just as essential to modern commerce as are accounting standards or liability rules, the natural thing would be to call for auditing and regulation. We sort of already have this, there’s an auditing scheme called “WebTrust”. But it doesn’t inspire much confidence; check out its only online presence, apparently at a Canadian accounting-standards site, Also, empirically, there are regular bogus-cert stories.

It does seem to me that some head-bashing by governments to stiffen up the auditing standards and make them more transparent might be useful here. On the other hand, this could drive up the cost of certs; and also many people are nervous, for good reason, about government over-regulation and over-reach.

But Google could solve the problem. When I was working there, a couple non-Googlers told me “Google should just wade into that biz, provide a super-cheap, super-friendly, super-reliable cert store, and drive the morons and crooks out of business.” The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me.

It still does. Google has the security infrastructure and scale to do it better and cheaper and faster and safer. The status quo is bad for Google and bad for the Internet. The only other companies with comparable scale and reach at the moment are, in my opinion, Facebook and (maybe) Microsoft. I think it would make perfect sense for either of them to get into the biz as well.

If Google did, it would probably suck the money out of this whole sector and maybe destroy operators like the apparently-nice-guys over at Which would be a sad but appropriate consequence of capitalism.

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1:30 pm alistapart_rss

Longform Content with Craft Matrix

Jason Santa Maria recently shared some thoughts about pacing content, and my developer brain couldn’t help but think about how I’d go about building the examples he talked about.

The one fool-proof way to achieve heavily art-directed layouts like those is to write the HTML by hand. The problem is that content managers are not always developers, and the code can get complex pretty quickly. That’s why we use content management systems—to give content managers easier and more powerful control over content.

There’s a constant tension between that type of longform, art-directed content and content management systems, though. It’s tough to wrangle such unique layouts and styles into a standardized CMS that scales over time.

For a while, the best we could do was a series of custom fields and a big WYSIWYG editor for the body copy. While great for content entry, WYSIWYG editors lack the control developers need to output the semantic and clean HTML that make the great experiences and beautiful layouts we’re tasked with building.

This tension leaves developers like myself looking for different ways to manage content. My attention recently has been focused on Craft, a new CMS that is just over a year old.

Craft’s solution for longform content is the Matrix field. With Matrix, developers have the flexibility to provide custom fields to be used for content entry, and can write custom templates (using Twig, in Craft’s case) to be used to render that content.

A Matrix field is made up of blocks, and each block type is made up of fields—anything from text inputs, to rich text, dropdowns, images, tables, and more. Here’s what a typical Matrix setup looks like:

Configuring a Matrix field

Instead of fighting with a WYSIWYG editor, content managers choose block types to add to the longform content area, fill out the provided fields, and the content is rendered beautifully using the handcrafted HTML written by developers. I use the Matrix field to drive longform content on my own site, and you can see how much flexibility it gives me to create interesting layouts filled with images with captions, quotes with citations, and more.

To pull back the curtain a bit, here’s how my blog post Unsung Success is entered into the Matrix field:

Entering Content with the Matrix field

Three block types are used in the post seen above—an image block, a quote block, and a text block. Notice that the text block is using a WYSIWYG editor for text formatting—they’re still good for some things!

The Matrix field is endlessly customizable, and provides the level of flexibility, control, and power that is needed to achieve well-paced, art-directed longform content like the examples Jason shared. This is a huge first step beyond WYSIWYG editors and custom fields, and as we see more beautifully designed longform pieces, our tools will only get better.

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Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

11:33 pm sepcommonlang

anti-clockwise and counterclockwise

I had to take/make a decision on how to hyphenate the title of this post--it could have been
anti-clockwise and counter-clockwise
anticlockwise and counter-clockwise
anticlockwise and counterclockwise
but I went with (BrE) anti-clockwise and (AmE) counterclockwise because, as we've seen before, Americans are a bit more apt to close up prefixed words when given the chance to. 

@jaynefox requested this one as a Twitter 'Difference of the Day', but since it's been a month since my last post (shock! horror! marking/grading!), I'm easing myself back into blogging with something that can't get too out-of-hand, I hope.

So why do we have different words for going in a circle as if going backward(s) on a clock?  The earliest instance of clockwise in the OED is from 1888 (and it's clock-wise, adding all sorts of hyphenation possibilities). This tells us that its opposite is a good bet for transatlantic differences: the British colonists could not have taken it to America, so each nation was free to come up with its own version. It's not so clear that their origins really were in different countries, though.

The OED's first instance of counter-clockwise is in the same quote as the clock-wise one, from the Times (of London).  Their first for anti-clockwise is from 1898. But should we trust the OED on this one? Probably not. These entries have not been updated in a long, long time and the OED's use of American sources was pretty limited in the early years.

Merriam-Webster has a first attestation date of 1879 for anticlockwise, but doesn't give the source. Its counter-clockwise date is also 1888.

So, I've turned to Google Books. Do you know what? Google Books is a pain. Search for counterclockwise in 19th century books, and you'll find that a lot of books that Google Books thinks were published in the 19th century weren't.  So, searching 12 pages into the results, I've found a few cases of counter(-)clock(-)wise antedating:
I could not find anything before 1880 for anti-clockwise (there's a nautical almanac that Google's dated as 1858, but that particular almanac didn't start publication till 1877, according to Wikipedia...and there are other such mis-datings).  

So, anti-clockwise is looking mostly British, but counterclockwise seems to have been used in England as early as it was being used in the US.  No obvious first coinage here, so we can't tell a tale of different national origins. All we can say is that anti-clockwise never caught on in the US, and counterclockwise quickly fell out of favo(u)r in the UK.

Oh, I suppose I can't leave without saying something about pronunciation.  In BrE the second syllable of anti-clockwise is pronounced like tea. Americans often (but not always) pronounce anti- with a second syllable like tie, which can help in distinguishing it from ante-. Some discussion of the variation in AmE pronunciation of anti- can be found here. For me, it's partly on a word-by-word basis: 'tea' in anticlimax, but 'tie' in anti-Communist.  I think if I form a new word with it (say, if I'm anti-pigeon), I'd pretty regularly use 'tie'. But that's what I think. And we're all pretty bad rememberers of what we do say and we're often bad judges of what we would say.  So, unless someone records me unawares saying antipigeon, we may never know...

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12:00 pm timb_ongoing

Color Victim

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been enjoying a Twitter stream called Every Hex Color; every ten minutes or so it posts a 24-bit random number which expresses a red/green/blue color value.

Color DD2543

I’ve long been fascinated by the mapping between the numeric RGB space and what our eye/mind system constructs on consciousness’ stage. Longtime readers may remember a small exploration I did called RGB Planes.

Of course, the math and science behind color are horribly, sickeningly complex, and I don’t pretend to deep understanding. For those who do, properly appreciating this feed probably requires a conscious effort to ignore all that stuff.

Color E7944F

Also, from time to time I still (mostly by accident) work on graphics that people will see, and it’s nice to have some unsuspected colors in your back pocket. Unfortunately, a high proportion of random RGB values fall into the “boring near-black” and “sort of teal” baskets. But still, I see some gems.

On the right are a couple of my faves in recent days, DD2543, an interestingly-impure red, and E7944F, a lovely cheerful gold.

I suspect this is a niche interest.

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Monday, July 7th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

Marketing Gone Bad

In this month’s Harvard Business Review, The Content Marketing Revolution smells like concentrated essence of evil; an unironic paean to the take-over of journalism, and public conversation, by marketeers.

I recommend reading it, if only for shock value; here are a couple of out-takes for flavor.

Brands are no longer merely peddling products; they’re producing, unearthing, and distributing information. And because they do, the corporation becomes not just economically important to society, but intellectually essential as well.

Just a sec, be right back.

Sorry, had to make an unexpected run for the loo there; hate it when that happens. Let’s try again.

Branded content is a brave new world and a brand’s editorial team, regardless of how it’s organized, must learn to live and breathe a company’s bottom line while also being mindful of the kinds of stories that appeal to readers.

Just a sec, be right back.

I guess that’s the new ethos of journalism: the employer’s bottom line plus the kinds of stories that appeal. Author Alexander Jutkowitz is on the board of overseers of the Columbia Journalism Review so I guess this represents mainstream thinking on the profession’s future.

The examples (GE, Red Bull, Shutterstock) are actually sort of thought-provoking. I guess the core message is that a commercial organization should try to make its online presence, you know, interesting. And just like they say in writing school: Write What You Know.

This works better for organizations which actually produce useful things and thus know useful things, for example GE, as opposed to Red Bull, which is left offering cool ski movies to those “looking for news content”.

This is more evidence for my argument that use of the word “Content” carries its own stench of futility and failure.

This article taught me that “Content Marketing” now has its own statuette-dispensary, the Digiday Awards; isn’t it stylish how all the beautiful young white Content Marketing things have their cupcakes carried in to them by a dusky servitor? Just a sec, be right back.

There is a silver lining: “Of course, not all brands can—or should—be expected to cover scientific breakthroughs or economic theory”. Yeah, please don’t, OK?

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Sunday, July 6th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

2014 World Cup — The Quarters

All the favorites won. [Sobs.] Also, the tournament has never got back to the high-scoring fast-running energy of the Group Stage. Let’s hope it ends with a bang.

Me blogging the World Cup for a mostly-tech mostly-norteamericano audience has felt a bit like bringing dispatches from a foreign country. But at this point chances are that many of you actually watched the games I’m writing about. Does that change anything?

France 0 Germany 1

A fair result, I suppose. One thing nobody else seems to have pointed out is that this was a triumph of conditioning; in the last 20 minutes or so the French play became ragged and choppy; there were no real slashing attacks or Neuer game-savers.

On Twitter I wondered out loud how it was that the German passing sequences were so much better than any other team in the tournament, and someone pointed out that seven of them play together for Pep Guardiola over at Bayern. But I dunno, I watched some of the Champions’ League and I don’t recall seeing Bayern or anyone else pulling off that sort of precision surgery.

I think the world owes a tip o’ the hat to Argentine referee Nestor Pitana, a real hardass, no tolerance for foolishness; the diving was correspondingly less blatant.

Brazil 2 Colombia 1

What a nasty, nasty game. I said that Brazil would have to show us more than they had so far in the tournament to get through, and they did. If the Colombians had woken up earlier… Anyhow, this one left me sad, both in the performance and the result.

And since I saluted France-Germany referee Pitana above, let’s send a joint sneer in the direction of Spanish ref Velasco Carballo, who tolerated continuous shoddiness, which is to say encouraged it. Feaugh.

Argentina 1 Belgium 0

And Feaugh again. I’m particularly irritated at the Belgians, who decided to play it safe, which is to say they decided to lose gracefully rather than go all-in and maybe win. I think there are lots of teams in this tournament that can beat Argentina, but they’re going to have to attack to do it.

Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0

This match, and the first half-and-a-bit of France-Germany, were the fun part of the quarterfinals. What a game! The Ticos were the overwhelming sentimental/geographical favorites, and while I want to see Holland in the semis, nobody could help loving the underdogs here.

On top of which, the Costa Rican defense isn’t an underdog compared to anyone. Let’s review their path to this game: They yielded one goal against Uruguay, none against Italy, none against England, one against Greece, and none against the Netherlands. I think that the two best defences, Mexico and Costa Rica, are now out of the tournament.

You can push back and point out that plenty of Dutch balls rolled in front of open goals and bounced off wood, but hey, if you want to watch a game where being close counts, wait for next winter’s curling season.

And what a finale! I had no idea that there was such a thing as a penalty-kick-specialist keeper; Krul is 6'4"/1.93 m, and a really nasty guy. I don’t think the Ticos’ training sessions included being abused by a monster Dutchman on the biggest stage most of them will ever occupy. Note to those remaining in the tournament: Do not let a game against Netherlands go to penalties.

No, I don’t actually approve of Krul’s style, just as I loathe Robben’s diving. But damn, those Holland games are just never boring

The semis

Brazil’s really gonna have to raise its game to survive their German encounter. And against Colombia, they did. But losing Neymar is really a big deal, while the Germans are mostly undamaged; and as well-conditioned as anyone. I don’t see how Germany isn’t in the finals.

The Argentina-Netherlands game is massively unpredictable. All the numbers people are convinced the Dutch are doomed, but I’m sure not. Let’s review: To get here, Argentina got past Bosnia and Herzegovina (yielding a goal), Iran, Nigeria (yielding 2), Switzerland, and Belgium (goal differential +4). That’s pretty stingy, but their defense just hasn’t been tested by an elite offence, which Holland is.

The Netherlands got past Spain, Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica, yielding four goals and with a differential of +8. Remind me again why it is the numbers people like Argentina?

It’d be a little sad if this big Latin-American show ended up with an all-Euro final; but at this point not surprising.

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Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Mr Cave is touring at the moment; the current Bad Seeds incarnation is a six-piece notably including Warren Ellis; (No, not that Warren). I don’t go to a lot of concerts; a few each year. I caught this tour Tuesday and it was the most involving, intense music I’ve experienced in years. If they’re coming near, you should go see them. Assuming you don’t mind really loud really dark music about serious things: fear and love and murder and sex and God.

The sky outside the Orpheum

An establishing shot, taken on the concert hall’s balcony.

It’s dark, just like the music.

At a Bad Seeds show, you hear wonderful songs; the set list featured two from my fave Cave, 1994’s Let Love In; Red Right Hand made my blood run cold. I also own and recommend The Boatman’s Call and White Lunar, which is just Nick and Warren doing mostly very quiet very beautiful ambient stuff. I hadn’t heard, but really liked, the title track from last year’s Push the Sky Away.

There were lots more powerful tunes: I particularly liked Tupelo and Into My Arms. And then there was Nick’s take on Stagger Lee. There’s a lot of dark shit at a Cave concert, but this was seriously evil. It’s part of our cultural consensus that rock performances can go places you just can’t in civilized discourse, but I wasn’t quite ready for all the enhanced essence of bad murdering motherfucker this one brought to bear.

You also get a hell of a performance. Nick’s a fine singer with a huge dark flexible flavorful voice; but he has a problem, which is he’s not much of a dancer. He compensated Tuesday by spending most of the set down in the audience, usually in the front row leaning against people’s hands, sometimes deeper; the polite Canadian crowd carefully passed the mike cable along over their heads.

Nick Cave performs

My poor little Nexus 5 was pushed way past its design parameters but this does sort of tell the story.

The rest of the band mostly just stands there except for Warren Ellis, who offers flourishes in a vaguely Ian-Anderson flavor.

The performance is super-intense visually and musically and emotionally; dramatic dynamics, subtle mood shifts, and thunderous guitar-driven rock & roll. God, I love it; Rock guitars are the machineries of joy.

And here’s something unusual: The sound was exquisite. This is in Vancouver’s Odeon, where our Symphony plays. I’ve heard lots of electric music there and nobody else has come close to this level of clarity and dynamic range and layered multi-instrumental textures; all without sacrificing the raw rock volume you need when Nick’s down at the front of the stage, howling “I ain’t down here for your body, I ain’t down here for your love, I don’t want your love or money, I’m down here for your soul” over the guitars’ roar.

I thought the six-piece band might have been better as a five-piece, there was a guy doubling drums and keyboards who was superfluous, and got in the way of Warren’s instruments and Nick’s piano a bit. But still, what a show.

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Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

5:56 pm alistapart_rss

This week's sponsor: Mandrill

Mandrill is a scalable and affordable email infrastructure service, with all the analytics tools you’ve come to expect from MailChimp.

Apps can use Mandrill to send automated transactional email, like password reminders and shopping-cart receipts.

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12:30 pm alistapart_rss

Nishant Kothary on the Human Web: In Pursuit of Facebook Happiness

The outrage being directed at Facebook right now centers on its experiment in manipulating the emotions of 689,003 users in 2012.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there’s no denying the phantasmagorical irony that we’re upset (and sad) about how Facebook affects our emotions thanks to learning about a study where Facebook affected our emotions through someone on Facebook. Maybe that, too, was to be expected.

One of the motivations for Facebook’s controversial study was to debunk the notion that seeing our friends’ happy posts in our news feeds actually makes us sadder. And according to a post by Adam Kramer, the primary author of the study, it did exactly that, “We found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses it.”

But, how profound is this effect on users’ overall enjoyment while they’re using Facebook? That remains unknown, and in my experience, it’s not much at all.

We already know that social media has a profound effect on our emotions. I’ve personally struggled with the emotional rollercoaster for years now. My Achilles’ heel used to be Twitter because I used to be a heavy user. I even quit the service for a whole year to regain my bearings. And while the hiatus turned out to be very positive, I didn’t quite get to the bottom of what inevitably turns me off about Twitter. And then, of course, there was Facebook.

Facebook affected my mood so dramatically that I’d stopped using it entirely for years until a few months ago. I used to refer to Facebook as, “The place my Instagram pictures go to die.” This was partly in jest, partly serious. My Instagram account is dedicated to my dog, and it’s hard to not notice that a picture or video that can get a few hundred likes, spur over a hundred comments, and bring so much joy to both me and my followers is often met with dead silence or, worse, scorn on Facebook (and honestly, on Twitter as well). There are many reasons for this, several that I covered in one of my prior columns, The REAL Real Problem with Facebook. But there is one above all: Not everyone is interested in pictures of my dog.


OK, so this isn’t really news, and it’s hardly blasphemous. It’s understandable that people wouldn’t want to see images of someone else’s dog every day. But then why the disparity between how enthusiastically my content is received on Instagram as opposed to Facebook (or even Twitter)? Therein lies the key to the puzzle.

It’s really quite simple: people follow me on Instagram specifically for pictures of my Weimaraner (yes, it’s a notoriously difficult to pronounce dog breed).

I never intended on turning my Instagram account into a dog account. It just happened. And in the process I met loads of Weimaraner (and dog) people from around the world (some whom, true story, I’ve subsequently met in real life). I now honor an informal contract to only post pictures of my dog. And what happens when I break that contract and post the occasional picture of something else? I’m rewarded with crickets in terms of engagement.

What escaped me back when I quit Twitter or when I silently shunned Facebook was that the negativity or the positivity of the posts wasn’t even relevant to the compounding effect of the social network on my emotional well being. What was more to blame was the lack of engagement; the lack of feeling a connection. As much as we do in all life, online we want to meet, engage, and be engaged by others who share our passions and interests. And when that doesn’t happen, well, it can be a bummer.

Over the past few months I’ve joined numerous groups related to my interests on Facebook (yes, including a Weimaraner group). The result is that my Facebook news feed is now flooded with content I enjoy far more. I’ve essentially hacked my Facebook world to feel a lot more like my Instagram world—more focused on my interests and pastimes. Sharing and talking with folks who care about the same things has made Facebooking infinitely more enjoyable. In an unexpected way, I think it has also helped me understand the mid-conversation exclamations I receive from some people about how much they love Pinterest.

One would think that Pinterest would be the ideal social network for most of us, especially me. After all, on Pinterest you can follow someone’s Weimaraner board, and dodge all their gardening, baby, culinary, and political content. What’s not to like? Well, clearly something, because like loads of people, I’ve never quite gotten into Pinterest. I have some theories why that’s the case, but my disinterest is beside the point. What seems clear to me is that Pinterest is really onto something. We need a social network that acknowledges that we all have facets, and that it’s OK for us to pick and choose each other based on our interests. In my experience, the amount of happiness you feel on a social network seems to relate more closely to how much the content caters to your interests.

So, if you’re looking to maximize your happiness on social networks, here’s the short-term solution: fill your account with content that’s interesting to you. Like or follow your favorite sports teams, TV shows, clubs, non-profits, news organizations, web design magazines, and anything else you’re into. In other words, make your feeds about things you genuinely like, happy or sad, instead of about your real-world social obligations.

And that may also mean muting or unfollowing the people filling your feed with posts about their gardens, babies, food, or politics.

Or, god forbid, their dogs.

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Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

9:46 am qcjeph_tumblr

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Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

2014 World Cup — Down to 8

All the teams that were supposed to advance have, and mostly without any surprises. The round of 16 hasn’t been as much fun as the first phase, but things are looking up.

Europe vs Africa

France’s defeat of Nigeria was fair, although it didn’t win them many friends. They’re totally the kind of team that could win the World Cup without actually exciting anyone. I loved the Nigerians’ pace and courage, but they just didn’t have the finishing quality to score against one of those deadening ironclad Eurodefenses.

I suppose Germany’s advance was fair-ish, too, and they’re obviously a contender to take it all. Their passing orchestration is at a level above any other, but they don’t run at defenses much. Also, the Algerians taught the world that if you can drop a big forward pass to a fast-running attacker in space, the German backfield can end up looking flat-footed and disorganized. If that sort of pass got through to Robben or Benzema, a quick goal would be unsurprising.

Argentina and Belgium

I was sort of depressed by the Argentina-Switzerland match; left feeling that neither of them much deserved to advance. The Swiss were likable but don’t quite have the quality, and the Argentines certainly don’t have the initiative. Their technique: Attack at a walk, send almost nobody forward, and once every twenty minutes or so, get Messi loose and see what happens. I don’t think that’s going to work against the top defenses. Speaking of top defenses, Argentina’s isn’t.

I sure enjoyed watching the Belgians and Americans. Anyone who plays a run-and-gun style like Belgium’s is going to have a friend in me, and while it’s weird to think of the USA as a plucky underdog, well, what’s what they were.

I actually had written my feelings about the game before the overtime and they were along the lines of “Americans are lovable but have no attacking flair or scoring punch.” And then suddenly in the second overtime half they did; it looked like a recipe that could have won the game.

So I have a question: Why did they wait so long? Was it a Klinsmann strategy gone wrong, or maybe the Belgians’ conditioning failed them?

I have to say that the Belgians could have hung back and played it safe, on the assumption they’d score on at least one counterpunch. So, credit them for courage, even bringing attackers forward in the last minute of overtime.

A kind word is in order for Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi who mostly just let them play, and to the teams for keeping it pretty clean and letting him let them play.


The upsets seem to have ended with the Group round, and it’s hard to imagine we get through this tournament without one more big surprise. The most unsurprising surprise would be Colombia disposing of Brazil, who haven’t looked remotely like the overwhelming numerical favorites the oddsmakers still make them.

It’d be really surprising if Costa Rica survived their upcoming Dutch treat, though.

France vs Germany… anyone who says there’s an obvious favorite is blowing smoke. And it would make me happy to see Belgium bring Argentina’s boring one-man show to an end. Could it happen? Absolutely.

My predictions

Colombia meets Germany in one semi, Netherlands vs Argentina in the other. I think the final is Netherlands vs Germany.

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12:47 pm alistapart_rss

Persuasion: Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model to Design

Persuasion is part of every aspect of our lives. Politicians want our vote, businesses want us to buy their products, and people want us to like them. Even altruistic nonprofits want us to change our behaviors around environmental issues and public safety, or give them our money to help fight hunger and disease (the nerve!).

This reality is no different for websites and other digital properties. Persuasion is a necessary component of good design, ensuring that users will engage with your product in the way you intended, leading to the outcome you intended.

Understanding persuasion will highlight the importance of developing strong messages, help you better incorporate and refine effective persuasive techniques into your design, and allow you to explain to others (potential clients, peers) how and why your design is effective at persuading users.

The really nice elephant in the room

Persuasion has a bad reputation—the word itself often evokes thoughts of being swindled or pressured to do something we really don’t want to do. But persuasion isn’t inherently negative—it’s just a process of influence, for better or worse. With some help from Richard Perloff’s The Dynamics of Persuasion, here are five ways of understanding persuasion:

  • Persuasion is communication. At its core, persuasion needs a strong, clear message sent from one party to another.
  • Persuasion is an attempt to influence. Understanding your audience and what makes them tick makes your attempt more likely to succeed—though the outcome is never guaranteed.
  • Persuasion involves more than words. Aesthetics, interactions, ease of use, and other factors can make a website or application more persuasive to potential users.
  • Persuasion is not coercion. It is up to individuals to form or change their own attitudes. Utilizing dark patterns or purposely tricking a user into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do is not persuasion. It’s being an asshole.
  • Persuasion can reinforce attitudes. Your audience has opinions that need to be strengthened from time to time. If you don’t preach to the choir, someone else will, and eventually your faithful followers will be led astray.

Academics have attempted to explain how persuasion works on individuals for decades. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), one of the most frequently cited models of persuasion, explains how shaping attitudes also shapes behaviors. Incorporating the principles of the Elaboration Likelihood Model into your messages and design will maximize your influence on user attitudes and, therefore, behaviors. That, my friend, is what persuasion is all about.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model

The Elaboration Likelihood Model attempts to explain how attitudes are shaped, formed, and reinforced by persuasive arguments. The basic idea is that when someone is presented with information, some level of “elaboration” occurs. Elaboration, in this context, means the effort someone makes to evaluate, remember, and accept (or reject) a message.

The model suggests that people express either high or low elaboration (that is, their level of effort) when they encounter a persuasive message. The level of elaboration then determines which processing route the message takes: central or peripheral.

  Central route processing Peripheral route processing
Elaboration High Low
Information processing Contents of message are closely examined by the receiver Receiver is influenced by factors other than the contents of the message
Attitude Will change or be reinforced based on message characteristics such as strength of argument and relevancy Might change or be reinforced based on the effectiveness of factors other than the message
Strength of attitude formed/reinforced More enduring and less subject to counterarguments Less enduring and subject to change through future persuasive messages
Table 1: Comparison of central route processing and peripheral route processing.

Central route processing means your audience cares more about the message. They’ll pay more attention and scrutinize the quality and strength of the argument. Any attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be more enduring and resistant to counter-arguments.

Peripheral route processing happens on a more superficial level. Your audience will pay less attention to the message itself while being influenced by secondary factors, such as source credibility, visual appeal, presentation, and enticements like food, sex, and humor. Attitudes formed or reinforced this way are thought to be less enduring, subject to change through counter-arguments, and in need of continual reinforcement.

To illustrate the difference between central and peripheral route processing—and how messaging and design can be used to simultaneously address each route—let’s look at the behemoth that is online retailer

A tale of two paths

Imagine two potential customers, both in need of a new television. Suzanne is a technophile and regular Amazon user, while Kevin rarely makes purchases online, and is mostly interested in finding a quality television at a good price. Amazon wants to persuade both users to purchase a television (any television) through its website.

Central route processing

While both users will have some level of central route processing (especially for pricing), it is more likely that Suzanne, with her interest in technology, will be attentive to the messages and design. Assuming she agrees with what she sees, she’ll be more inclined to purchase through Amazon versus a less persuasive competitor.

For Amazon, this is critical; its competitors include stores where potential customers can interact face to face with knowledgeable sales reps. So it has to make product information easy for users to access by including multiple options for searching and sorting, offering detailed product descriptions, and providing in-depth product reviews written by fellow shoppers.

Image of Amazon search results
Amazon search results can be sorted and filtered by numerous variables.

Suzanne searches for high-end TVs, filters them from high to low ratings, and reads the reviews. After making her decision, she uses the “Buy now with 1-Click” option, since all of her information is already up to date in Amazon’s system; Amazon’s reliability and service over the years has earned her trust.

Suzanne was not a hard sell for Amazon; this is due in part to years of persuasive factors that have shaped her buying habits. If central route processing has occurred in a positive direction, Suzanne is also likely to purchase from Amazon again in the future, while Amazon’s competitors will have a harder time persuading her to purchase from them.

Peripheral route processing

Amazon does not leave the casual user hanging when it comes to persuasive design. Many elements of its design are meant to appeal to peripheral route processing.

First, look at its use of visual hierarchy. The product page’s focal point, a nice large photo of the product itself, is perfect for holding attention—no reading necessary to see that gem. It also offer options to view the product from multiple angles. The numerous filtering options allow potential customers to choose from a broad range of categories that can serve as a shortcut to selecting a product they have little interest in researching in-depth (e.g. price, rating, age of product).

Screenshot of Amazon product page, showing product details
Amazon provides a detailed product description, highlights potential savings, and makes adding to the cart obvious and simple.

Let’s say that Kevin, our less motivated potential customer, is curious to see how much TV he can get for his money. After searching for televisions in the impossible-to-miss search bar on the homepage, he immediately sorts the results by price from low to high. Next, using the filters offered on the left of the screen, he selects to view only TVs with four stars or more. (Why spend time reading a review when you can see four shiny stars at a glance?)

Kevin notices the percentage saved and the low-price guarantee that comes with his purchase. Additionally, free shipping is offered in bold type directly next to the price. Appealing to a user’s pocketbook is an excellent form of peripheral route persuasion. This penny-pincher won’t even have to pay for the convenience of having the product shipped to his front door.

Utilizing visual hierarchy at its finest, the second most eye-catching element of this page is the blatantly obvious “Add to Cart” button. You can guess how the scenario unfolds from here.

Notice that both routes lead to the same outcome—and that design elements are not exclusive to one route or the other. People often process information using some level of both routes—the routes can complement each other. For example, Suzanne would be more likely to process the information in the product description through the central route, but utilize the star-rating filter as a peripheral route shortcut to viewing TVs highly rated by likeminded shoppers. She was persuaded by elements from both routes. High-five to Amazon!

Suzanne is more likely to maintain her positive attitude towards making purchases on, thanks to central route processing, whereas Kevin will need some convincing in the future not to go check out the big box store down the street (the free shipping should help!).

Persuasion goes hand-in-hand with messaging and design, but there are also ways to do it wrong: distractions can undermine your persuasive techniques just as quickly as you can develop them. If your potential user encounters nine pop-ups, long loading time, or three pages of disclaimers to get to the meat of your message, they are never going to choose to taste it. Distractions, whether physical, visual, or intangible, can temporarily halt the whole elaboration process.

Could you please elaborate on that?

What promotes central route processing and high elaboration? Researchers have explored two main factors: motivation and ability.

Motivation is often influenced by the relevance of a topic to an individual. A user who feels directly impacted by a topic is more likely to process a message through the central route. This explains why Facebook asks why a user blocked an ad; not everyone finds a free trial of Viagra compelling, but eventually Facebook intends to crack the code on what each user finds relevant. You can account for this in your own work with a strong message that shows your users why your product is relevant to their lives.

Ability is exactly what you think it is. For central route processing to occur, your message must be in line with the thinking abilities of your audience. If an individual does not have the mental ability to process your message, they will not be able to critically evaluate it, and are guaranteed to process it through the peripheral route. Yes, if you want to effectively persuade someone, your message actually has to be conveyed in a way they understand. Shocking.

In other words: if you want users to actually pay attention to your message, make it directly relevant and easy to understand.

What does this mean for working on the web?

How can you put the Elaboration Likelihood Model and other tenets of persuasion into practice? First, you need to account for the following elements to effectively persuade your users:

  • Message: what’s being said, marketing efforts, content, and copy
  • Design: visual hierarchy, navigation, and layout
  • Delivery: load time, user experience, rewards, and bells and whistles

This all seems simple enough—provided you know a lot about your target audience and what motivates them. This is where it is best to sit down with a professional user researcher and develop a list of questions about what your audience values; what their fears, hopes, and dreams are; and what existing challenges you face in persuading them. A researcher can also conduct a brief review of past research on persuasion in your field, which will help back your current efforts.

Then, take a closer look at your work. A lot of what we have discussed can be boiled down to clarity and simplicity:

  • Is your message clear?
  • Are you telling people exactly why your product/website is relevant to their lives (or could be) in an easily understood way?
  • Are you guiding people to the actions you want them to take? Does your design facilitate this?
  • Does your design incorporate elements of persuasion that will help potential users become users?

Asking these questions of your work will help you be laser-sharp when it comes to persuading your users.

Have I been persuasive?

For some of your users, you may only need to provide a convincing message—that is, one that shows the relevancy of your work to their life and helps shape or reinforce a positive attitude. However, many will probably process your message through low levels of elaboration. They will need clear content, good design, and efficient delivery to bolster their receptiveness to your message or product.

Being persuasive requires a conscious effort. Conducting user research, incorporating the tenets of good design, and understanding how persuasion works will help you appeal to more users through both central and peripheral processing routes.

Designing for both paths of the Elaboration Likelihood Model isn’t just good in theory; it’s good in practice. This purposeful incorporation of persuasion will bring a new level of effectiveness to your craft, eventually enabling you to move your audience to process your messages through the central route—the sign of a truly persuasive design.

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12:47 pm alistapart_rss

Structuring a New Collaborative Culture

When I was a junior designer, my creative director asked me to design a mascot with the rather uninspiring instruction to reorder the shapes of the famous 2012 Olympics logo. Having little choice but to accept my task, I threw myself into it with all the boundless, panicked energy that comes from needing to impress the powers above, trusting my superior to steer me in the right direction.

Three weeks later I was distraught, the entire weight of our complete and utter failure to win the pitch resting on my shoulders.

It would be easy to put that loss down to inexperience—after all, I totally missed the brief, and every other pitch was better. But when I think about it a little more thoroughly, I can see that the real problem was one of access. I longed to understand the full project details, but was instead privy to mere bits and pieces of projects, attempting to cobble together an unknown whole. It was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle whilst looking at it through a keyhole.

Many organizations—faced with the challenge of bringing together multiple projects, departments, and skillsets—fall back on the traditional combination of hierarchy, method, and structure. This can breed a culture of complacency, leading to outcomes that are narrow in their vision, team members who feel restricted and undervalued, and a workforce that operates under ceaseless pressure to either get it right, or get out.

When I look back on my ill-fated Olympic experience, I can see that I didn’t have the full picture. I was unable to bring my own ideas to the table, powerless to create change. I was subordinate; my relationship with my superiors was distant, and the most integral aspects of the design process—research, exploration, and discussion—were entirely absent. It wasn’t collaboration of any kind. No wonder that I lost both the pitch and the plot!

It doesn’t have to be that way. When I co-founded the creative studio Gravita, I learned what collaboration really looks like: multiple minds working together to solve problems. By doing this, our complementary skillsets are free to blend together in surprising ways—unconstrained, we’re better equipped to deliver inventive solutions.

This kind of collaborative culture is possible, whether you’re freelancing, in an agency environment, or in-house. You only need to do three things:

  1. Remove assumptions
  2. Emphasize project roles over job titles
  3. Create a supportive environment for new ideas

Here’s how we’ve accomplished each one at Gravita.

Assumption: the cyanide of collaboration

When I first established Gravita with two other designers, we found that there was real synergy between us. The feedback was exceptional. We had stumbled across a dynamic that worked, even in our earliest projects.

However, the path to uninhibited working was far from smooth, because I started making assumptions about my value to the team. I weighed my own skills against theirs and—deciding that I came up short—assumed my ideas weren’t as good. Agency life had drilled into me that my contributions weren’t worthwhile.

My insecurities created walls. I became terrified of showing my work, afraid of failure. I found any excuse not to contribute. This created frustration and tension in our working space, and hindered progress on my first project.

The only way out of this debilitating dead-end was to lay out my insecurities and discuss them. Once I was brave enough to open up to my colleagues about how I was feeling, and accept a gradual process of support and positive feedback, we were able to move forward.

On our next project, we began by talking openly about how we all felt. I was amazed to discover that I was not alone in feeling apprehensive; having everyone’s cards on the table was cathartic. We sat together as a team and worked out what we could each bring to the task, what we were afraid of, and how we could work together to get around potential problems.

Collaboration offers a vehicle through which assumptions of the self can be overridden. Don’t bottle up what you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask questions you assume others will find stupid. Voicing the concerns you have about yourself opens up an ongoing dialogue—one that can identify your strengths, encourage praise, and allow your confidence to blossom.

Prioritizing roles over jobs

Job titles can be useful, but they’re also confining. They can stifle entire projects and hold back personal development. They’re labels, and just like on a can of soup, they create a clear expectation of what is inside—if anything else emerges, it comes as a nasty surprise.

I had the first inkling it didn’t have to be this way when I was working for a large charity, stuck with the title “web master.” The management noticed how confining this was for me; they gave me the green light to take on new responsibilities that allowed me to branch out. I realized it was perfectly feasible for organizations to adopt this kind of open, flexible thinking.

I’ve found this way of thinking works at Gravita too. We recognize that it’s the role, not the label, which should be the focus of the work. We don’t have job titles at all, opting instead to rotate roles. We sit down over a cup of coffee and see who fancies doing what on a new project, whether that be project manager, information architect, iconographer, or anything else.

Removing permanent titles is liberating. Suddenly, like a long-distance runner, you’re only ever really competing with yourself. It becomes more about self-improvement, less about climbing the ladder. You’re free to bring whatever you want to the table, and to grow as a designer.

Chance favors the connected mind

Ideas should always be heard, regardless of what form they’re in or how complete they are. Instincts and hunches—proto-ideas, neurons sparking with other neurons—need a free environment where they can mingle, collide, and flourish, ultimately producing something greater than the sum of their parts. After all, as Steven Johnson explains in his talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” “chance favors the connected mind”—connectivity and flow between people create stronger ideas.

It can be challenging to achieve flow, but it’s very worthwhile. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the internal state of energised focus which characterises the mind at its most productive.” We look past the separate spaces that we inhabit as individual bodies and come together as minds. It’s a form of intense, unified working where people relax from their inhibitions and see themselves as being fundamentally interconnected on a project.

Recently we were evaluating concept designs for a healthcare project. It just wasn’t quite working, and individually none of us had figured out what was wrong with it. Together, we began passing ideas back and forth, until someone uttered the words “less cold.” Suddenly we could see what we needed: a new and more gentle typeface, a softer and more comfortable palette. It took all of us, working together in a connected way, to hit on the solution.

Flowing mind-to-mind in this way allows us to fuel an idea in a shared headspace. Collaborative thinking enhances the brain’s natural capacity to make new links, which in turn strengthen the initial idea. There’s no place for ego—it’s important to be open and welcome this flow of others’ thoughts.

A new way of thinking

Collaboration means bringing different minds and skillsets together in a way that doesn’t make assumptions about what someone is or isn’t good at. It means dispensing with limiting roles, and introducing a fluidity of thought and activity into the design team. Above all, it means putting interconnectedness at the heart of every action.

So is collaborative working the elusive Holy Grail? Certainly a lot of people aim for it, and like to think that they do it even if there is a wide variance in form. What I do know is that by changing the way I think, I’ve helped bring about a safe, assumption-free space with an even distribution of authority that allows ideas to flow freely.

Collaborative culture helps us discover unique solutions—and continuously redefine ourselves. Designing for the online community means operating in an ever-changing environment, where adaptability is key for keeping up with new technology and scenarios.

A collaborative culture can push us into spaces more conventional practices fear to tread. Everything is open to question. Ideas are heard. People feel empowered to make real change.

Finally, I feel like I’m seeing the full picture.

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Thursday, June 26th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

Java Security Hole

Good solid cryptography is an essential foundation for sound business usage of the Internet, and essential to provide a sane privacy level. But the tools for Java programmers are in horrible shape.


The crypto landscape is wide and disorderly, but in the area I most care about, private messaging, OpenPGP is central. RFC 4880 gives pretty crisp and clean coverage of how it works. So what we need are nice clean OpenPGP tools for Java-heads.

OpenPGP describes public/private key formats and what signed/encrypted messages look like. So there are four or less inputs to any PGP process: The key, the payload (to be encrypted and/or signed), the encrypted data (to be decrypted), and the signature (to be checked). I could write down a Java interface that would give developers what they need in a few minutes. It’s a little harder than you’d think because you need to handle streaming data, but this does not need to be a complicated interface.

I’m pretty sure this is possible because there’s an excellent open-source OpenPGP implementation that has a command line tool, so you can say things like gpg decrypt and gpg check; so give me a Java API to do that.

Case study

The problem I’m facing is that I want to check a proof (for geeks, here’s a compact JSON version). So, I have a payload, the JSON starting with:


I have a signature, the start of which looks like this:

Version: Keybase OpenPGP JS 0.0.1


And I have a key, whose ASCII form may be fetched from

Thus, I need a Java method something like

boolean checkSig(byte[] payload, String sig, String asciiKey);

Wish me luck; I’ll need it.

The library landscape

Of course, Java comes a set of Security packages that can among other things can check signatures, but all over the Internet it says “Of course, to do X (for almost any value of X) you’re going to need an external package like Bouncy Castle” (which exists in Java and C#). Unless you’re on Android, where the Bouncy Castle version is hard to use, thus someone has obligingly provided Spongy Castle as a drop-in replacement. [Update: Explanation in the comments.]

Hokay then, let’s go spelunk through the Bouncy Castle documentation and tutorials to figure out how to check that signature. Well I tried, but man, it’s far from obvious. Part of the problem (and this seems to be true a lot in crypto software) is that the libraries provide soup-to-nuts implementations of a huge swathe of crypto stuff, of which OpenPGP is just a corner case. And since this is all written by deep-crypto nerds (whom I admire immensely) you get an effect where you sort of have to understand everything to understand anything.

I’m never going to be a deep-crypto nerd, but I understand things at a conceptual level and, with the help of RFC4880, I think I understand key structures well enough to write code to build them and pick them apart.

There’s a Java OpenPGP library over at Apache Commons, but its functionality is limited and it seems very lightly maintained.

So, how hard is it to use Bouncy Castle to do basic OpenPGP messaging stuff? Let’s look at the excellent OpenKeychain Android app, which does just that. The openpgp subtree has 23 classes containing 15K lines of code.

It shouldn’t be this hard

At this point, since I’m interested in Android clients, I’m in Java-land. I don’t know if the picture in other languages is as grim as it is here. But if someone wanted to give what’s maybe still the world’s most popular programming platform a major shot in the arm, a tractable OpenPGP API for mere mortals would be huge.

But maybe I’m wrong

You know what would be great? If someone stuck up their hand and said “you noob moron, just grab this here library and use these five lines of Java and you’re done.” Not holding my breath.

What’s more likely is that someone says “A simple generic API will leave it open for developers to use it wrong and they think they’re getting good encryption when they’re not.” But I’m deeply unconvinced, I think it’s just a hole in the software inventory.

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Monday, June 30th, 2014

9:14 pm ia_blog

Happy Hour at The Interval, Tuesday July 8 at 6pm

The Long Now Foundation works to encourage long term thinking in our increasingly “now” oriented culture (read more about them and their projects below).

Long Now just opened a new cafe, bar and event space called The Interval at Fort Mason Center. It features prototypes and artifacts from the 10,000 Year Clock they are building, thousands of books on floor-to-ceiling shelves, art created by Long Now co-founder Brian Eno, and a cocktail menu designed by Jennifer Colliau (Slanted Door / Small Hand Foods) There’s a great article at on their recent launch.

July 8, 2014 at 6pm
2 Marina Blvd.
Fort Mason Center Building A
San Francisco, CA 94123
RSVP on meetup

On Tuesday, July 8th please join us at The Interval to enjoy their amazing cocktails–they also serve beer, wine, Sightglass coffee, tea and cocktail-worthy no-alcohol drinks. Long Now Foundation staff will be on hand to tell you more about the organization and how you can follow, participate, and support what they do. (Memberships start at $8 / month and include free tickets to their Seminar series!)

All this in their amazing, inspiring space along with your fellow Humanitarians, a great chance to meetup, hang out, and get to know each other better over some delicious drinks. The night starts at 6pm and we’ll hang out for a little less than a millennia (The Interval is only open until midnight anyway).

About The Long Now Foundation

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996 to encourage and foster long-term thinking and responsibility through a variety of projects including a Clock designed to last 10,000 years, a monthly Seminar series about long-term thinking, Revive and Restore which is focused on genetic rescue for endangered and extinct species, and the Rosetta Projectwhich preserves the diversity of human languages. In short their goal is to make long-term thinking more automatic and common rather than difficult and rare.

The term “Long Now” was coined by co-founder Brian Eno after observing that in New York City the word here meant “this room” and now meant “about five minutes”. It led Brian to reflecton the importance of living in a bigger here and a longer now.

What does “the long now” mean?

The 10,000 Year Clock is a project to build a monument scale, multi-millennial, all mechanical clock as an icon to long-term thinking.

The Rosetta Project is Long Now’s first exploration into very long-term archiving.  The project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers building a publicly accessible digital library of human languages. Below is an image of the Rosetta Disk: thousands of pages of language information micro-etched on a nickel disk in order to preserve them without the risk of digital obsolescence.


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Sunday, June 29th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

World Cup 2014 — We Know Four

Four of the sixteen are in, four more out. Lots of drama even if some of the football was a little stinky.

Brazil and Colombia

So the hosts got (just barely) past Chile. At this point, I’ll honestly be surprised if they get past Colombia, and if they do, they’ll be crushed by whichever of France or Germany emerges from that side of the bracket. Neymar and Oscar? They aren’t, and the defense is frankly porous. I suppose the result’s qualitatively fair in that neither team really dominated the other, but I felt awfully bad for Chile. And the shootout itself was sort of lacklustre, what with shots wide of the goal and straight at the keeper.

Colombia’s disposal of Uruguay (which I didn’t see) was the only real no-surprise-here Day 1 result.

Netherlands and Costa Rica

I was emotionally OK with either the Dutch or the Mexicans advancing here, but I wish it’d been decided a little more cleanly. I think the Mexican exit robs the tournament of its single most impressive defense, which is good for us spectators; but still, I wish the brackets had let them go deeper.

I guess I’ve been underestimating the Greeks; their game may be slow and ugly but they’ve managed to make some really good teams (in which I include the Ticos) look bad. Whatever, good riddance to ’em. And you can sneer at shootouts all you want, but Navas’ save at 1:25 in this highlights video is one for the ages. Anyhow, I wish the Ticos luck against Holland; they’ll need it.

Did Robben Dive?

Well, it’s complicated. Go look at the video in this BusinessInsider write-up. Really, go look. So, it’s like this:

  1. Robben turns in from the baseline.

  2. Marquez steps on Robben’s left foot with his right foot. That’s a foul; it’s gonna get called every time, assuming the ref sees it.

  3. Robben goes into full-extension dive mode, soles of both boots pointed at the sky.

The question I have is: Could Robben have got his right foot planted again and kept moving? If so, did he make a decision that going for the penalty was a better bet than driving on with the ball? Or was he gonna faceplant anyhow after he got stepped on; and just dressed it up a bit?

The answers have ethical import and highlight a big problem in FIFA-regime football. Not just the diving-and-simulating problem, but the extreme lack of punishment granularity; is there a way to disincent fouls in the box without offering the other side a nearly-certain goal?

Having said that: If Robben gets loose with the ball in your penalty area, bad things are gonna happen.

Going forward, on this side of the bracket, I suspect Costa Rican pluck won’t get them past the Dutch and win them the right to face the dreaded Messi posse; which constitutes a prediction about that side too.

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Friday, June 27th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

DisplayPort vs HDMI on OS X

Recently I wrote about plugging a Samsung U28D590D “4K” display into my late-model 15" MacBook Pro. Decent performance, easy setup. It was reporting 30fps, which is OK for programming, but Sheldon McGee a.k.a. @tooshel said that I’d get 60fps via DisplayPort, and pointed me at video evidence. So I tried, and here’s the data.

This is OS X 10.9.3 on a “MacBookPro11,3” i.e. late-2013 15" model. There are three possible configurations: Standalone laptop, Laptop/outboard via HDMI, Laptop/outboard via DisplayPort. For the latter to work, I had to buy a DP-to-mini-DP adapter; the Mac then reported the display as running at 60 Hz.

For the laptop screen, I investigated two resolution settings: “Best for display”, and the Native resolution of 1920x1200. For the outboard Sammy, I tested the “Best for Display” (which is I think 1920x1080), the second-highest-resolution, 3008x1692, which is what I actually use, and the Native resolution, 3480x2160.

I used two test videos; the 24fps-vs-60fps test by Marc Tönsing featured in Paul Bakaus’ The Illusion of Motion, and the first-half highlights from the Netherlands’s 2014 World Cup first-round thrashing of Spain, which contains van Persie’s incredible header. I used the CBC version, which is higher-rez than the one at, but you probably can’t see if you’re not in Canada. I tested the Tönsing video in both embedded and full-screen mode, the football highlights full-screen only.

Standalone Laptop

The Tönsing video 60fps ball was equally smooth at Best and Native display settings, which is what I’d expect. I’d thought earlier that plugging in the HDMI made the laptop display slow down, but couldn’t reproduce that finding.

Tönsing video on outboard screen

Via DisplayPort, at both Best and Native resolutions, there was no shimmy in the 60fps ball. But at 3008x1692, the 60fps ball shimmied just like the 24fps one.

Via HDMI, there was shimmy on the 60fps ball at all three resolutions, but the shimmy looked different in ways that are hard to describe. I noticed that in Native mode, I could only see the shimmy full-screen, not when leaving the video embedded.

Football highlights on outboard screen

Via DisplayPort, the highlights looked great at Best resolution, maybe a little worse at 3008x1692 (but I might have been fooling myself), and distinctly jittery (?!?!) at Native resolution.

Via HDMI, the picture was OK in Best and Native modes — maybe not quite as good as DisplayPort, can’t be sure, but perfectly good enough to enjoy watching. I’m pretty sure there was more jitter in 3008x1692, but once again I might have been fooling myself.


Draw your own, dammit. The fact that HDMI works just fine for displaying video of a football match shouldn’t be surprising, it was designed for TV after all. The fact that the DisplayPort showed jitter at native resolution was a little disturbing. Since I use this for programming, and since when I’m watching football I leave that on the laptop screen off to the side, I guess I’ll keep connecting by HDMI for now.

Note that the Sammy isn’t on the list of approved displays for 10.9.3; I got it because people reported that it worked and it was cheap and looked nice.

I’d be interested in the results of this test, run on a real Apple-approved Thunderbolt display.

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8:49 pm alistapart_rss

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12:30 pm alistapart_rss

Ten Years Ago in ALA: Dynamic Text Replacement

Ten years ago this month, A List Apart published Stewart Rosenberger’s “Dynamic Text Replacement.” Stewart lamented text styling as a “dull headache of web design” with “only a handful of fonts that are universally available, and sophisticated graphical effects are next to impossible using only standard CSS and HTML.” To help ease these pains, Stewart presented a technique for styling typography by dynamically replacing text with an image.

I began working on the web five years after Stewart’s article was published, right around the time when web fonts were gaining popularity. It was an exciting time, with a slew of new typefaces, foundries, and new techniques for styling text with CSS3 cropping up frequently. It seemed—for a moment—that we could finally “control” typography in a way that we never could before.

I was recently looking at the state of default system fonts and realized that we’re never going to have as much control over typography as we want. But that’s ok.

Instead, I’ve been seeing more nuanced discussions about typography, focused on striking a balance between having beautiful typography without taking a huge performance hit. I appreciate that as an industry we’re dedicated to creating the best experiences possible, regardless of device or connection speed.

It’s easy to get carried away with web fonts, and slow our sites down significantly as a result. While we may no longer need to use dynamic image replacement, the deliberate approach Stewart advocated is worth revisiting:

“Sticking with the traditional typefaces is smart for body text, but when it comes to our headings—short, attention-grabbing blocks of text—it would be nice to have some choice in the matter.”

In another five years, we’ll have completely different techniques and a host of other considerations. If we are thoughtful and deliberate with our (type) decisions, we’ll be able to evolve much more easily.

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Thursday, June 26th, 2014

12:00 pm timb_ongoing

2014 World Cup — Round of 16

Nobody would say the tournament format is perfect but, based on the first-round play, it’s hard to find teams that should have been in but are out, or vice versa. When the biggest injustice is Greece instead of Côte d’Ivoire, that’s not terrible. The exits of Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal are surprises, but I’d say the bigger story in 2014 is the ascendency of Latin-American football.


The hosts are heavily favored, but Brazil just hasn’t, to my eye, really showed the brilliance I’ve seen from certain other teams. Their goal differential (+5) is tied for fourth (Netherlands & Colombia at +7, France +6, Germany +5). So is their Goals-for (Netherlands 10, Colombia 9, France 8, Brazil & Germany 7). So I think this game will be tough.


Suarez is gone, good riddance, and the Colombians were obviously the class of their group. I can’t see this one being close.

Thus, Brazil has to get through both Chile and Colombia to play in the semis. If they didn’t, it’d be a surprise; but not that big a surprise.


This is the big marquee matchup of the weekend; the Mexicans played balanced soccer against tough opponents and are tied for the Goals-against lead (at 1, with Costa Rica and Belgium).

Netherlands was terrifying in the group round, swatting their opponents aside. Oddly, if I had to pick the one defense in the tourney that just might be able to hobble Robben and van Persie, it’d be Mexico’s, with Ochoa at the back; no keeper has looked better. I like both teams so the result here is going to leave me sad. Except for, the winner is a pretty safe bet for the semis.

Costa Rica-Greece

I apologize to my Greek readers, but that team really shouldn’t have got this far. I don’t see them giving Costa Rica much of a workout. Which makes me happy, I love watching CR play and I’ll get at least two chances. Of course, the second will be against the Netherlands-Mexico winner; so sad.

France vs Nigeria and German vs Algeria

Two easy calls. Sad though it is to say, I’m afraid that African football will once again fail to make it through the round of 16; maybe in my lifetime.

But… the resulting France-Germany quarterfinal on July 4 should be titanic. Neither Germany nor France were actually tested hard in the group round by a team they’d taken seriously. I’d bet on that surgical German passing game to carry the day if I had to, but I’m unconvinced that any predictions about this match are worth much.

Argentina vs Switzerland

Yeah, Messi’s boys will probably win, but this might still be fun to watch. The Swiss have been kind of surprising, they can score, and if the Argentines don’t take them seriously the tournament could get a big surprise right here. Having said that, Switzerland has let in 6 goals to Argentina’s 3; so yeah, chances are this one is lopsided.

Belgium vs USA

Obviously the Euros are favored, but this is another to watch. Belgium looked good, but in the tournament’s weakest group. The Americans didn’t finish that well against the Germans, but they were on short rest and should be back to peak fitness. Also, Klinsmann is clever and sneaky, so the Americans won’t make obvious mistakes and might offer some surprises. Anyhow this one’s mostly for bragging rights because the winner is facing Argentina.

Looking forward

Me, I think the semis are going to be Brazil/Germany and Netherlands/Argentina. But Chile/France and Mexico/Belgium is not outside the realm of plausibility.

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12:00 pm timb_ongoing

World Cup Tools

I’ve managed to take advantage of my between-gigs status to watch just over half of the World Cup matches. To satisfy my curiosity, I regularly needed answers to two questions: “What are the group standings?” and “What’s on today?” You’d think that would be the place to find them, but you’d be wrong.

To figure out what’s on, I’m using this web calendar from Britain’s Sky Sports, which plonks the matches, timezone-corrected, right into the Google calendar I look at 20 times a day. Pleasingly, it’s auto-updating the playoff fixtures as the group standings settle down.

To understand the group statuses, I do a Google Search for “world cup standings”; this puts the Group A status at the top of the results window and gives you a one-click link to see all eight groups. Yes, you can go to the FIFA group-standings page but it weirdly omits the goal-differential number, which is all-important in a small-group low-scoring round-robin tournament setup. Yeah, it gives you GF and GA, but I thought computers were supposed to do routine arithmetic for you. Pro tip: On your mobile, turn the device sideways to see the full standings in the search result.

FIFA’s site actually isn’t bad. Aside from not providing the answers to the two most-asked questions about what’s going on.

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3:50 pm alistapart_rss

Ask Dr. Web with Jeffrey Zeldman: The Doctor Is In

A note from the editors: Way back in the early days of web design—back before, even, A List Apart—there was, where thousands of us spent hour after hour soaking up every bit of web design knowledge we could. Between 1995 and 1999, Jeffrey Zeldman himself even answered your questions—or at least, his alter ego Dr. Web did.

The days where one column can cover “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About HTML, CSS, Graphics, & Multimedia” are long gone (except on the Internet Archive), but Dr. Web is back. This time, our fearless leader is here to help you find your place and build a satisfying career in this big, weird, changing industry we call the web.

Read on for Dr. Web’s advice, and don’t forget to submit a question of your own. 

An Ask Dr. Web logo from the 1990s

Dear Dr. Web,

I’m a print designer trying to transition into the web world, but the resources out there seem to be endless. It’s overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. Do you have any suggestions for what to read, who to listen to, or how to otherwise take careful sips from the firehose?

Just Getting Started

Dear Just,

Funny you should ask. Four score and 13 years ago, I wrote a book for designers transitioning to the web. That book is now available free of charge, and while some of the sites it references are no longer with us, and more than a few of its browser references and front-end techniques are amusingly dated, the basic premises are as true today as they were in 2001. Enjoy Taking Your Talent To The Web, Dale Cruse’s HTML rendition of the book, or download the PDF version, containing the original layout, typography, and artwork. (Thanks to New Riders, my original publishers, for believing in the book, and for allowing me to give it away online after its best-used-by date expired.)

If you are willing to learn HTML and CSS—and, at least until Macaw is in its 5.0 version, every web designer should learn those things, at least well enough to understand the principles behind them—read Designing With Web Standards followed by Bulletproof Web Design and HTML5 for Web Designers.

Then dive into Aaron Gustafson’s modern classic, Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement. Though compact and approachable, it is jam-packed with the collective wisdom of literally thousands of modern web designers, developers, and consultants, all filtered through Aaron’s expertise, practicality, and friendly style. Nobody has ever done a better job of explaining progressive enhancement and why it is the basis of universal web design.

Of course, web designers do not live by code alone. So next, or simultaneously, I recommend getting your mitts on Steve Krug’s classic, Don’t Make Me Think, which is the quickest and friendliest way I know for a print designer to grasp all those things about usability and interaction design that you’d never, ever pick up in a traditional graphic design curriculum or career. In print for 13 years, it’s been translated into 20 languages and sold over 400,000 copies—and now it’s available in a fully revised edition.

As a print designer, you’re familiar with type—and on the web, interfaces consisting almost entirely of type are used to present content consisting almost entirely of type. Bone up on what type means for the screen with Ellen Lupton’s newly released Type on Screen, and Jason Santa Maria’s upcoming On Web Typography.

While you’re reading these books, you should also be visiting websites, viewing source, selecting all, and copying into a text editor. The more you study other people’s HTML markup and CSS, the better you will begin to understand how to structure web content so people and search engines can find it, and browsers and devices can display it. Short of working as part of a front-end development team with experienced colleagues, viewing source is the best front-end web development education you can have. (“Front-end” is what we call it to distinguish from the heavier kinds of coding that go into the “back-end” of most sites today.)

Of course, it helps if the sites whose source code you’re viewing are well-made. Besides viewing source on A List Apart (cough), you’ll find fine source code on Chris Coyier’s CSS Tricks. (You’ll also learn a lot about CSS, the visual language of web design.) You’ll learn loads more about CSS, and get more great source code to boot, in the articles section of Sara Soueidan’s website.

Other great resources—for education, inspiration, great source code, and just plain good reading—include:

This is barely a distracted start; readers, please list your favorite sites in the comments section.

Don’t study or work in isolation. If you’re freelancing or working remotely, Twitter can be your best friend (or can help you find your new best friends). After a week of working at home, make time for a meetup in your hometown, and if your city offers free or inexpensive design, development, or user experience (UX) events, take advantage of those offerings and get out there. This is a warm community full of passionate practitioners who love to share tips and make connections.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, take the time to become deeply familiar with a few websites that you love and use all the time. Analyze what design decisions and special touches (whether of interactivity, or visual hierarchy, or copy, or whatever) make the experience of using the site so special. Likewise, when you encounter an unpleasant-to-use site (online banking, anyone?), instead of fleeing in frustration, force yourself to spend extra time on that site, to discover which particular interaction design decisions are responsible for your bad experience. And then never, ever make decisions like that on the sites you design.

Design on the web is a combination of aesthetics and usability, control and surrender, constraint and endless creativity. Designing books is wonderful, but designing for the web is a whole ’nother thing. Welcome, friend!

Have a question about professional development, industry culture, or the state of the web? This is your chance to pick Jeffrey Zeldman’s brain. Send your question to Dr. Web via Twitter (#askdrweb), Facebook, or email.

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2:51 pm alistapart_rss

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12:00 am dev_dot_opera

Opera Mini 8 for iOS released

Opera Mini for iOS

Today, we released Opera Mini 8 for iOS. It’s a completely redesigned product that, for the first time, offers three different browser modes, two of which save time and money for the consumer — or get them connected on slow networks that other browsers can’t handle. More details for consumers are available on mobile team blog.

If you’ve upgraded from the previous version, it will start in Mini mode. New installs will open in Turbo mode. The browser mode can be switched using the “O” button on the right of the toolbar.

Let’s look at those three modes in more detail:

Mini mode

This mode is how Opera Mini’s 244 million users experience your site. You must enable this mode to test your site through the Opera Mini servers.

This mode routes all traffic through our Opera Mini servers, which render pages then compress them by up to 90% before sending them to the client devices.

This means pages download much faster and — if you pay by the megabyte or are roaming — saves you a lot of money. The price to pay is that animations, gradients, rounded corners and other CSS extras are dropped. SVG images are supported, but animated images only render the first frame. Web fonts are not supported due to the download overhead (use SVG icons rather than icon fonts). JavaScript may not work as you would expect. Developers should read JavaScript and Opera Mini for a full description.

The rendering engine used is Opera Presto. The user agent string is Opera/9.80 (iPhone; Opera Mini/8.0.0/34.2336; U; en) Presto/2.8.119 Version/11.10. We are currently working on upgrading Opera Mini to use a newer version of Opera Presto, so CSS rem units and Flexbox are supported. As this upgrade is performed on our servers, all Opera Mini users will immediately benefit. There is no publicly-announced timescale for this upgrade.

If you rely on some sort of Geo IP tool for detecting a visitor’s location, note that the IP address you find in the headers when Mini mode is turned on is the one of our compression proxy. The user’s original IP address is passed on via the X-Forwarded-For header.

Turbo mode

Browser modes switcher with advanced compression settings

Opera Turbo mode is very different from Opera Mini mode. In this mode, rendering is done on the iPhone/ iPad, but some images and media are compressed through our servers. CSS and JavaScript behave as normal. HTTPS pages are not sent through our Turbo servers, even if Turbo mode is enabled.

Because this mode doesn’t send pages through the Opera Mini servers, it has a different User Agent string: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 7_1_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.2 (KHTML, like Gecko) OPiOS/ Mobile/11D201 Safari/9537.53.

Because of clause 2.17 in Apple’s App Store approval guideline, we can’t use Blink or V8; the rendering is done by the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.

Opera Turbo mode is the preferred mode for speed and savings. You can control the quality of images using the slider in Advanced Settings after choosing this mode in the O Menu.

Note that if Turbo mode is on, the IP address is also modified, just as is the case with Mini (see above). You find the originating IP address under the X-Forwarded-For header.

Uncompressed mode

This mode does no compression at all; everything happens on the client device. This mode is useful when you’re connected to fast, stable wifi and you need highest quality images. The User Agent string and rendering engine is the same as for Opera Turbo mode.

QR Codes!

QR Codematic extension for Opera

Opera Mini 8 for iOS includes a QR code reader to save you from having to type an address. Check it out by tapping the address bar: above the keyboard a QR code icon is shown, which spawns a full QR code reader.

For easy sharing of a web address with a nearby friend, you can generate a QR code using O > Share > QR code. Your friends then can use a QR code reader to quickly load the page on their device.

We thought it would be nice to bring this QR Code based sharing mechanism also to desktop, and hence, we’ve implemented similar functionality in an extension. With QR Codematic you can generate QR codes from web pages and selected text, and even read QR codes using getUserMedia. Be sure to give it a try!

Power user tips

Address bar navigation toggle

Not strictly for web developers, but some useful power-user tips to speed up your testing in Opera Mini 8 for iOS:

  • You can close multiple tabs at once by swiping them up at the same time with multiple fingers
  • The virtual keyboard includes a toggle to edit stuff in the address bar: left right moves the cursor, holding the toggle triggers selection
  • Holding the + sign in open tabs view triggers a list of recently closed tabs.
  • On an iPhone, you can type in the address bar by pulling the speed dial background down. This allows one-hand browsing.

That wraps up the developer-focussed information on Opera Mini 8 for iOS. But, of course, developers use the web a lot, and like to save time and money, so why not give it a try yourself?

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